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Monday, April 16, 2012

The Marketing Of Non-Existence



As American consumers, we frequently purchase food and beverage products based on what is not in them.  Whether it is the level of an ingredient (low fat, low carb…) or the complete absence of an ingredient (fat free, no cholesterol, no HFCS…), products are now defined by what they do not contain, rather than what they do contain.  This is such a common element of our experience that it does not even strike us as odd.  If you step back and think about food from a historical or global perspective this is absurd; having enough food to survive has been a common issue for human survival.  Instead, we have become numb to “The Marketing of Non-Existence.” 

What does this say about our society?

I believe this phenomenon says five, inter-related things about us.
  • 1.     We are wealthy
  • 2.     We are not well versed in basic nutritional principles
  • 3.     We have a tendency towards “magical thinking” when it comes to health
  • 4.     We are thus susceptible to manipulative marketing strategies, and
  • 5.     We are largely unprotected from the “fear industry” associated with food


We are Wealthy

Although few of us think of ourselves this way, most Americans are quite wealthy, spending 10% or less of our income on food, which includes costs for convenience in addition to actual nutrients.   Our choices are about the details of what and how we will get our food and almost never about whether we can eat well or even eat at all.  Indeed, as our obesity epidemic demonstrates, our food issue is one of over-availability.  We are accustomed to buying foods based on non-existence features, possibly because the existence of plentiful food is never a question.

We Are Not Well-Versed in Basic Nutritional Principles

In 1990 Congress passed the “Nutrition Labeling and Education Act” (NLEA).  That law established the requirement for the official nutritional content labeling, which has been on the “back of the package” for foods for the intervening twenty-two years.  The law also called for developing and implementing a comprehensive program to educate the public on basics of nutrition and on how to properly interpret the new labels.  Unfortunately, Congress never authorized the funds for the education part, and so we have nutrition labels that few people know how to interpret.  The difference between the official FDA labeling and the largely unregulated marketing labels is obscured.

We Have A Tendency Towards Magical Thinking When It Comes To Health

Lacking basic background, and being confronted with less-than-balanced sources of “information,” we tend to grasp at simplistic ideas about how to stay healthy.  If we avoid cholesterol maybe we won’t have a heart attack.  If we just avoid fat, we can become thin.  The reality of our need for a moderate and diverse diet with reasonable exercise is lost amid the marketing messages.

We Are Susceptible To Manipulative Marketing Messages

During a period where “saturated fat” topped the non-existence agenda there was a major marketing campaign using the “front of the package” label that said, “No Tropical Oils.”  Palm and coconut oils are indeed saturated fats, but the drive to get consumers to avoid them was less about health and more about being able to sell more soybean oil.  Soybeans are mainly grown for their protein content to be used in animal feeds, but they also contain 20% oil.  The soybean processing industry wanted to expand their sales into food categories by pushing out tropical and animal based fats.  The problem is that soybean oil has properties that make it unsuitable for making a butter substitute (margarine), for many baked goods, or for use as frying oil in the quick-serve restaurant industry.  To fit those uses, soybean oil had to be “partially hydrogenated,” a process by which its excessive “unsaturation” was reduced.  This process generated “trans-fats” which are forms of fat that do not occur naturally in plants and are rare in animals. These are not healthy oils at all.  So, this example of non-existence, faux health marketing ended up shifting the American diet towards something far worse for their health - something actually worth avoiding.

We Are Largely Unprotected From A Fear Industry Associated With Food

Having been exposed to such a string of messages saying “this is what makes food dangerous,” one might think that consumers would become skeptical about yet another scare.  Instead, it seems that we are a society that has become ever more credulous about each new, sensationalized, food-bogeyman.  RBST, HFCS, arsenic, pesticides, gluten, GMOs… all become subject to over-simplified, distorted, messages that help someone sell something, raise funds, or attract an audience.  

So, this is our sad situation.  We are a nation that has a food supply that is perhaps the safest, most diverse, abundant, and affordable in history.  Yet, rather than enjoying that privilege, too many of us either worry excessively about food choices, feel guilty, or make poor choices. 

You are welcome to comment here and/or to email me at savage.sd@gmail.com

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12 comments:

  1. A real good personApril 26, 2012 at 11:45 AM

    You are a lying sack of shit kill yourself.

    ReplyDelete
  2. A real good personApril 26, 2012 at 11:48 AM

    Like we both know you are trolling and LYING you are a LIAR so I don't feel like I really neeeed to waste my time with a point-by-point response? Just know that ***I*** know you are a lying sack of shit and kill yourself. Kill yourself kill yourself kill yourself kill yourself kill yourself kill yourself kill yourself kill yourself kill yourself kill yourself kill yourself kill yourself kill yourself kill yourself kill yourself kill yourself kill yourself kill yourself kill yourself kill yourself kill yourself kill yourself kill yourself kill yourself kill yourself kill yourself kill yourself kill yourself kill yourself kill yourself kill yourself kill yourself kill yourself kill yourself kill yourself kill yourself kill yourself kill yourself kill yourself kill yourself kill yourself kill yourself kill yourself kill yourself kill yourself kill yourself kill yourself kill yourself KTHX

    ReplyDelete
  3. A real good personApril 26, 2012 at 11:50 AM

    Fear industry HAHAHA WOW like for one KILL YOURSELF, kill yourself, but you KNOW and this is why I am telling you to kill yourself you ***know*** that there is a big giant group saying "GMO is good" and there are small disconnected tiny groups saying that their products do not contain GMO the danger is from one big group becoming way more powerful than disconnected small groups. In short? Kill yourself kill yourself kill yourself kill yourself kill yourself kill yourself kill yourself kill yourself kill yourself kill yourself kill yourself kill yourself kill yourself kill yourself kill yourself kill yourself kill yourself kill yourself kill yourself kill yourself kill yourself kill yourself kill yourself kill yourself.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Real good person,
    For a "good person" you not very civil. I have a practice of publishing all comments that are not commercial plugs. I think that readers can learn a lot by whether a comment actually makes a point or not.

    ReplyDelete
  5. A real good personApril 26, 2012 at 11:53 AM

    Please consider ending your own life as soon as possible. I know, I know, don't think I don't, that you want everyone to join the GMO suicide-pact, which is voluntary, and so you will not be alone when you ultimately kill yourself but it will not go down like that and you might as well save everyone else the little tiny amount of energy to see past your lies and again kill yourself today. If you truly believe in these beliefs you will publish my comments because if they are as trivial and wrong as this article will make them seen your point will not be diminished by their full publication.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Real good,

    I looked up "trolling" in the urban dictionary and according to them you have it wrong.

    Trolling 2359 up, 1302 down
    Trolling is trying to get a rise out of someone. Forcing them to respond to you, either through wise-crackery, posting incorrect information, asking blatantly stupid questions, or other foolishness. However, trolling statements are never true or are ever meant to be construed as such. Nearly all trolled statements are meant to be funny to some people, so it does have some social/entertainment value.

    You have clearly lost any interest in hearing any other side on the GMO debate. I will not be approving any more mindless insults unless you have something of substance to say

    ReplyDelete
  7. These issues seem to be a matter of free speech combined with corporate person-hood. Speech, being free for all citizens, is not limited to truthfulness as we've already seen in so many marketing campaigns. Giving artificial citizens the rights of humans allows these companies the "right" to lie and manipulate without negative effects being returned to them.

    We will have to make changes to the idea of corporate person-hood before we will have any chance whatever of winning our freedom from the fear industry, whether it be in foods, medicine, guns, finances, religion or any other sector where a company believes that the money we have belongs in their pocket, no matter what methods they have to use.

    Unless we can find a way to take back control of our Congress, we'll have to evolve out of this mess. (It's that or revolution, I'm afraid.) Fortunately, that evolution shouldn't take more than a few tens of thousands of years.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Glen,

    Marketing is a necessary activity and is practiced by every scale of business from mom-and-pop to corporate. Misleading "information" is sometimes used on every scale. Lots of very small scale Organic marketers will make misleading claims like "no pesticides" when in fact Organic does use pesticides (just different ones). All scales of business are guilty of making the meaningless, unregulated "natural" claim.

    I'm no fan of congress, but in this case I don't think this is their issue (except about not following through on the education funding)

    ReplyDelete
  9. Just stumbled upon your blog (it was mentioned in a Huffington Post article on Agent Orange Corn) - what an excellent repository of knowledge and information! Food production has become such an emotionally-charged, polarizing issue, and many well-meaning people are subject to a great deal of misinformation. Voices of reason like yours are much needed in the debate!

    ReplyDelete
  10. Perpetual,
    Being a perpetual student is a very good thing. Thanks for the feedback. It was odd that reporters picked up on my statement about exploiting a real tragedy. It was quoted in the New York Times, CBS News and the Huffington post. They didn't include other balancing information from my post, but they did end up driving several hundred people to this site.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I think that eveгуthing postеd was aсtually veгy
    reasonаble. But, thіnκ on this, what іf you
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    ReplyDelete
  12. Is food cheap because we are wealthy or are we wealthy because food is cheap. If you actually look at the numbers, it was a dramatic lowering of food costs that allowed the middle class to rise up. NOT the other way around.

    ReplyDelete

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